Church Station 1908 and 2013
The Post Card
In 1908, our postcard writer, Murdy, mailed a post card from Orlando to Clara in Watertown, WI announcing, “This is where we landed.” The writer went on to express concern the postcard was a duplicate, “I wish I could remember what kind of postals I sent you. Am afraid you’ll duplicates… Love to all. Murdy”
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Church Street Station
Few buildings have been in Orlando longer than this train depot. From the 1800’s when Church Street was a dirt road, through the the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was surrounded by one of Florida’s top tourist attractions, until today where it awaits the future Sunrail riding along its tracks.
In the earliest days of Orlando, the first train depot stood here as a wooden platform servicing the area’s first rail service. The route was Orlando to Sanford. Tickets were sold across the street in a warehouse owned by Joseph Bumby. Bumby, one of Orlando’s early business men and citrus growers, later built Bumby Hardware across the street (in the building where Hamburger Marys is today).
In the late 1880’s, the depot (as pictured on the postcard above) was built for the South Florida Railroad. This train route went as far “south” as Tampa. The Atlantic Coast Line acquired the route in 1902. The Church Street station was a passenger depot until 1926. That year a new passenger station, now an Amtrak Station and still in use, was built on Sligh Boulevard. From 1926 until 1972, this station on Church Street continued on as a ticket outlet and freight station. By the 7o’s, the buildings to the west were mostly abandoned and the station itself was falling into disrepair.
A young businessman, Bob Snow, had success in Pensacola, FL creating a nighttime entertainment complex from derelict buildings. He purchased many of the buildings surrounding the train station and brought the success of Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium to Orlando. Rather than just restore old buildings — he refurbished and redefined them with a grand attention to detail. Snow purchased antiques and furnishing from points all over the world — chandeliers reclaimed from a Boston bank, painted glass from a pub in England — to create the Church Street Station entertainment complex.
Church Street Station during its heyday
The project was a great success and brought people back into downtown Orlando. In the 1980’s, Church Street had over 900 employees, drew almost two million people a year, and was one of the largest attractions in Florida. A new concept at the time in which a single admission price allowed access to a variety of nightclubs, restaurants, and lounges. A weekly TV show was even broadcast from here featuring country music headliners. For many years, this was a nighttime favorite for tourists and locals.
Church Street Station had seen its heyday by the 1990’s. Bob Snow had sold his interest. Disney and Universal opened nightclub complexes and fewer tourists came downtown. In the early 2000’s with a huge decline in attendance, Church Street Station closed its doors.
Since then, Church Street always seems to be on the verge of a comeback. Great spaces like the Cheyenne Saloon are used for special events, and many of the other venues are now occupied by Hamburger Mary’s, Ceviche, and the Harry Buffalo. The Amway Center and 55 West high rise apartments bring in foot traffic. East of the tracks, Mad Cow Theater recently moved in and promising new places like craft beer spot, Eternal Tap, continue to add to the energy and nostalgia of Church Street.
The train station itself sits empty, but remains in good condition. Just as it has for 125 years, the Church Street depot continues to sit in the midst of a growing and changing downtown Orlando.
Rails Across Dixie, A History of Passenger Trains in the American South; Jim Cox 2010
Remembering Orlando, Tales from Elvis to Disney; Joy Wallace Dickinson 2006
Orlando, A Centennial History; Eve Bacon 1975
Snow and Associates website
Flickr user: alcomike43
Tammy Wynette performing at The Cheyenne Saloon and Opera House: